This is a guest blog by Lisa Holmes: I don’t believe in stages of grief, like a run of a ladder. For me grief has been every feeling and emotion weaving its way in and out, like a squiggly drawing or a knotty piece of string. When I think one ‘stage’ has had its moment and is gone, it will rear its ugly head again at a time I least expect.
Grief is different for everyone, experiencing a loss is an individual process, but there are many similarities. And whilst I don’t want to go into specifics – as I don’t think that’s fair to my family – I wanted to share what I can to help with the discussion around grief. This has been hard and taken quite some time to write; but each time I talk about it, it gets a little bit easier.
The feeling of remembering he is gone never eases
For just a few seconds before I opened my eyes I thought, “Oh I haven’t seen him for a while, I’ll pop round today.” Then just as quick as that thought came it was crushed. The feeling of remembering he is gone never eases. It’s been 19 months since my Dad died. I’d experienced grief before with my grandparents and as hard as it was losing my Nana’s, and seeing people precious to me go through the pain they were in, nothing prepared me for or compared to losing my Dad.
As a grown adult you know it’s going to happen
And the funny thing is I would always say to one of my sisters “Mum and Dad are going to die at some point and you can’t ignore it”. I think that was me being the eldest and trying to be pragmatic about things. Sometimes I wonder, Would it have been easier to be the naïve one?. She’s certainly not now. None of us are. We have one parent still with us and are trying to make the very most of doing all we can with her.
Covid and lockdowns
Dad didn’t die of Covid but due to lockdowns I’d barely seen him in the ten months before. That was difficult for me as I would see my parents multiple times a week under normal circumstances. But like most people, we’d done the zoom calls, quizzes and celebrated birthdays online. I had also decided to leave my job which gifted me time before I started another, so at least over the summer when restrictions were lifted I got to spend some time outside with him. No hugs or kisses. But time together none the less. I look back now and cherish these moments.
Little did I know what was going to unfold
9 weeks before he passed, we went into another lockdown. I would visit, standing at the front gate on the way home from work, but only once during this time did Dad appear at the door to say, Hello. He didn’t look well. But Covid had taken its toll on everyone. whether they had been struck with the virus or not and he had never been in great health anyway. Queue moans and rants from me about how he needed to get out of the house, at least go for a walk around the block every day and start eating more.
At the beginning of 2021 he was taken to hospital
The next day he had a load of tests done and we were told that he didn’t have long left. Maybe a few weeks. Whilst Mum and I thought we may have some bad news, this hit us like a ton of bricks. He came home from the hospital the next day and after we’d told the rest of the family, we started planning what to do next.
Your brain is going a million miles an hour trying to process what you have been told
You have a list of questions and you don’t know who to go to. Who do you contact? Who will help set up the home? How will you make sure he has medication correctly? We’re in the middle of another full scale lockdown so who can see him?. Because the last thing we wanted to do was transmit covid to him and make things worse.
But it’s OK they said a few weeks so we have time to process and put things in place. And I can’t stress enough how amazing the district nurse was. She came to see him the night he came home and said she would be back the next morning. Great, we thought. We can ask her questions and sort any more equipment we need, have conversations with Dad, etc. We decided that we wouldn’t all be at my parents at the same time as it could be really overwhelming. So I went over the next morning to meet the nurse and help with anything I could.
The look on her face changed my life forever and I will never forget it for as long I live
The nurse told Mum and I there and then that it wasn’t going to be long. We called my sisters. Within half an hour my sisters, partners and their children were there. Over the course of 3 and a half hours it changed from ‘today or tomorrow’, to ‘today’, to ‘the next hour or so’. And then finally she told me to tell my family he’ll likely be gone in the next 30 minutes. She was right.
Here’s the thing, no-one tells you how you are going to feel and how to grieve. Just that you need to give yourself time to.
But I think we all reacted similarly in those hours that immediately followed. We sat talking about Dad. Laughing about things he said and did, all whilst he was tucked up in bed. It was weird talking about someone as if they’re not there when physically they are.
We had a chippy tea so that no one had to cook. Talked about his favourite music and where he would like his funeral. We didn’t really know what else to talk about. Then they came to take him away. Some people didn’t want to watch. I felt like I had to. A kind of finality about the day, maybe acceptance that the worst had actually happened.
The next few days and weeks are a bit of a blur
I remember lots of calls, emails and video calls with people organizing everything. Whilst busy with all of this, I would go home and cry endlessly. My husband was an absolute rock looking after me whilst also grieving – Him and my Dad had a very close relationship.
Then came the anger. I was so very angry that Dad hadn’t told us just how poorly he was feeling. That he hadn’t sought any help from the Doctor. Angry because we didn’t know and because we hardly had any time with him. Then I was angry at Covid. Why is that I could be there in the past for close friends in their time of grief but they can only be outside 6ft away from me?.
They say you realize who is really there for you when someone dies and it’s true
Why are some friends barely speaking to me?. It took 6 weeks for one of my best friends to talk to me after the funeral. But one close friend spent hours with me on the phone. We were both crying and talking about our experiences, then she just stood standing outside with me just to be there. Other friends whose loved ones died within the 18 months prior were there for me.
Whilst feeling really angry I would also feel the most immense amount of guilt
I’ve never experienced anything like it. I felt guilt for being angry at Dad, try getting your head around that! Why didn’t we insist he saw someone, and why hadn’t I popped around to the window by the garden during that last lockdown so that I could at least see him when he wouldn’t get up to come to the door? Why hadn’t I sat with him more when we were told it wouldn’t be long (I wanted to make sure everyone else had their turn and was busy talking with the nurse and updating family). I didn’t realise it would be so quick, that’s why!
The last proper conversation we had, why was it me moaning at him? Did he hear me say sorry for that? I’ll never know and I try so hard not to go there now because it’s too damn hard! I accepted that he was gone almost straight away but that didn’t mean it was easy. Why so quick, why do other people get time to say all the things they wanted to, whilst their loved one is coherent, understands and can speak back to them?. Why did it have to happen now, when for the last year we have barely spent any quality time together? No hugs or kisses for 10 months. I longed for a hug from my Dad and still do.
Then I would sit and think about all of the good times we had
I’d find every photo I could to make me smile. Play the small amount of video we had of him from our wedding and of him laughing at Christmas musical toys. Anything to think of good times. People always laugh at me for taking so many photos and I tell you, they’re great, but boy do I wish we’d had more video.
One thing I’m pleased I did was write a letter to my Dad. I got everything out that I wanted to say and talk to him about but didn’t get the time to. My husband put it in the coffin with him so that he had it. Sometimes when I struggle to think of memories I will read a copy I have so that I can remember more good than bad. I find it helps. It may not be for everyone but it was definitely a good thing for me.
The days of thinking all day and night about what’s happened eases
But I can tell you now, when I do think about it, my heart hurts. And when I start to go down a rabbit hole, I often think of the district nurse that came to see him. She said that having worked through the past year in awful situations with Covid, it was so lovely and heart-warming that he had all of his family with him when he died. That it was one of the nicest things she had seen all year. That poor nurse. How awful must her day to day life have been in 2020, that our situation was heart-warming!
I try to be grateful and happy that we had 40+ years together building memories
And I have to focus on those when the pain hits. I was with one of my closest friends last week and she asked me if I could still hear my Dad’s voice as she could no longer hear her Mums. She’d been trying for so long to remember and couldn’t. We both got upset and she said, “The pain will never leave you, it’s just not with you as often.”
Another friend and I often talk and discuss what is better, that someone goes quickly or that you have time with them?. We will both say the opposite to our personal experiences and I don’t think there is a right answer. Now my family and I all know that my Dad would have been very ill for a long time; but once he knew it was the end he just wanted to get home. When we were all there he died, no more pain, no more struggling. For him, it must have been the best way. Selfishly for us, the family, it was too quick. Equally, we wouldn’t have wanted to see him get worse.
Then there are the firsts
First birthdays; first Christmas, first family meal or holiday you go on without them. First social event that they loved, first time seeing people who knew your Dad and want to talk to you. All difficult moments. Grief can hit hard at these times. I’m lucky and have my husband and friends who I talk to about my Dad. Within the family, people only really talk about him in passing, which I find tricky but then I don’t want to upset anyone so I leave it alone.
All of these moments happen whilst you are in the early stages of grief
What to do with all of his things? Some have been sorted and others I think will just remain until later. I treasure sentimental things so they are in special places. Then there is the spreading of ashes/burial – it was a very personal time for us so I’ll hold back on writing about it. But I know he would have liked where we were and that we were all together.
I understand it’s hard to know what to say to people when they have just lost a loved one
My advice? Offer your condolences, share happy memories and ask them what you can do for them. It may be a hug, a telephone call, helping them with something. Anything to make their life just a little easier and to show you are there for them. Don’t forget that it’s happened, even years down the line. Check in on them, how are they doing? They might be struggling and you don’t realize.
I’m not sure how long it will take before the pain eases more
Last night I had a dream about Dad. Normally I remember everything about my dreams, vividly, but this time not so much. Probably my brains way of protecting me. Whilst the day to day is getting easier, moments like this don’t. The hard lump in my throat, the shortness of breath, literal pain in my chest and then the tears. I don’t think that will ever completely go away. And I know it will never disappear but I hope it keeps easing and not be so frequent.
Take whatever time and help you can to ensure you are looking after yourself
Try not to hold everything in. Make sure you talk to people. And if you need help, ask. If you need to cry, do it. I remember a close friend suddenly being hit by grief one night when she was driving us both home from somewhere. I made her pull the car over as tears were just streaming down her face, seemingly out of nowhere she was grieving. So I don’t believe in stages of grief, like a run of a ladder. Grief is different for everyone. And no-one tells you how you are going to feel and how to grieve.
At Dad’s funeral the celebrant read a poem that really struck a chord with many of us which I wanted to share:
Miss me but let me go by Christina Rossetti
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.
If you ever feel like you are not coping with grief and bereavement, there are some fantastic charities out there who will help directly after death with practical things and also with grief. There are also many online communities and support groups. Such as Macmillan Cancer Support | The UK’s leading cancer care charity and Home – Cruse Bereavement Support